New PUP Inquiry Sets Sail on the Titanic

It is a privilege to follow my colleague Senator McGrath and his contribution concerning an Australian Defence Force covenant. It is a concept which he has told me about before, and I do hope, as he does, that it can be taken up by all political parties.

Senator McGrath also mentioned that it has been three months since his first speech, as it has been for me. I can honestly say that every day I get to spend in this place is an absolute privilege and an honour. In my own small way, I hope I have contributed to some of the debates in that time on issues like rural debt and a new live cattle export facility at Rockhampton—another issue I am trying to progress—and also to various committee inquiries, such as the NDIS, Northern Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, which I am fortunate enough to be on.

I see with all of that work there is enough to keep me busy in the chamber. I do not really need to go looking for other people's problems. I find it regrettable tonight that we have established an inquiry that is principally about trying to solve other people's problems and not about trying to do the job that we have been put here to do. So I think it is regrettable that the Palmer party's senators, who are new senators just like James and I, have chosen to use their time to in effect waste their time on an inquiry that is not going to deliver any tangible results to the Australian people. They are going to waste a lot of time on a political witch-hunt that has nothing to do with trying to pass laws in this place that are going to make people's lives better. Let us be clear about exactly what this inquiry is about. The inquiry that has been established is all about the Palmer party trying to get some revenge on a Queensland government that they do not like. If they did not like that Queensland government they had a very simple solution available to them under our democracy—that is, to run for the Queensland parliament. If they did not like the Queensland government they could have run for the Queensland parliament. They did not do that.

They ran for the federal parliament last September, and they were elected to the federal parliament. Since they have been elected to the federal parliament, they should be focused on federal issues—and they are clearly not doing that. I find this greatly regrettable, because we all have limited time in this place. It is a great honour to be here, but we have a limited number of days here. There is limited time in which all 76 of us can contribute, and we have to share that time. So for that time to be wasted on this political witch-hunt is, I think, an absolute waste.

The other big project which we know the member for Fairfax, Clive Palmer, is engaged in at the moment is building a new Titanic. Clive Palmer wants to build TitanicII. I do not know whether he is going to be able to build it. I think it is a pretty enormous objective to try and replicate that ship 100 years on, but at the very least I think he might have succeeded here tonight because the inquiry that has been established is going to follow the course a little like the original Titanic. It is a big project. It terms of reference is massive. It is overloaded. It is going to head out on the stormy waters to see if it can get to some kind of destination. I do not think it is going to get there. I think it is going to finish just like the first Titanic: it is going to be wrecked on the shores of great ambition and, ultimately, it will get nowhere. There will be a lot of people who get hurt in the process and principally among them will be the Labor Party and the Greens, who have decided to support this venture. This is consistent with how the Labor Party and the Greens have approached matters in the last few years. They will get into bed with any other political party who they view will give them an opportunity to progress their political cause. They have no principles on the other side of this place. They are willing to get into bed with the Palmer party to create a new Titanic, if you like. Senator Conroy, who supported the motion, is playing the role of Leonardo DiCaprio in this new movie, and Senator Milne from the Greens party is Kate Winslet. They are joining together. They are getting into bed once again to head out on this new journey on the Titanic. It is apt that Leonardo deCaprio played a role in the Titanic, being the converted Green that he is. Not only that, this movie is being financed and produced by none other than the member for Fairfax. He is the James Cameron in this saga. He is hoping that the box office proceeds will be just as good as those for the first Titanic. I think he might be right there.

I agree with Senator O'Sullivan, who contributed to the debate earlier on the motion for this inquiry. I think this inquiry is going to be a bit a show. I say to the people of Queensland and Australia: 'Get your popcorn ready, because this is going to be a bit of fun.' I went to see Titanictwice, I think. I went once with a young lady. It did not turn out to be much. It certainly was not my wife at the time. I had to suffer through those three hours or however long it was. You might remember it, Mr President. In my view, it was quite a long-winded movie, but I was willing to suffer it that night. I do not think this inquiry will be as bad as that. I think it is going to be a little bit more exciting than the movie.

The topic matter that we have to work with on this inquiry is quite thrilling and exhilarating, because, as Senator O'Sullivan pointed out before, the way the terms of reference have been worded very clearly allow this newly established inquiry to look into the matters of the former Queensland Labor government, including the Bligh government. When you look at the inquiry's terms of reference, clause 1(a) limits matters to Commonwealth funds allocated to the state of Queensland since 26 March 2012, but then subclauses (b), (c), (d), (e) and (f) as well as the new clause 2 on coal seam gas that was inserted are not limited by that time frame at all. So the committee can look at all the decisions of previous Queensland governments, including Labor governments—

Senator McGrath: "Including Wayne Goss."

Yes, including Wayne Goss. I was a bit young then, Senator McGrath, but I am sure we can have fun with that too. Who was the cabinet secretary for Wayne Goss? I think it was someone who came to prominence in Labor politics.

Senator Back interjecting

Yes, help me out Senator Back. I remember there was a decision made to not proceed with the dam at Waterford West—

The PRESIDENT: "Senator Canavan, I do not want to interrupt your flow, but could you desist on tapping the desk. It echoes throughout the whole sound system."

Mr President, it is very worthwhile and useful advice. I will take it on board. It has come to me: it was the former Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd. He was the cabinet secretary to Wayne Goss. I grew up around the area of Waterford West. There was a proposal for a dam to be built there, called the Wolffdene Dam. It was completely kyboshed by that government. They built houses on that dam site and so we can no longer build that dam. If we had built that dam, the 2011 Brisbane floods might not have been as bad as they were. So we could look at that. Indeed, we could look at the floods more generally, because there were a lot of them. Remember how the former Bligh government merged all those departments

According to the commission of inquiry report into the 2011 floods, there was a complete breakdown of communication between the department of the environment, the department of water and the Premier's department at the time. It was a comedy of errors with, I think, Mr Stephen Robertson as the water minister at the time. They received advice ahead of the floods that there was a potential major La Nina event and nothing was done to help protect the people of Brisbane. That is another thing we can look into.

As I mentioned last week, there is a lot more we can look into. There is the former health department official who took off with $16 million of Queensland government funds. He got away with it by explaining to his senior officers that he had this wealth because he was a Tahitian prince. The department of health believed him that he was a Tahitian prince, and it subsequently came to light that he was a fake Tahitian prince and he ran off with $16 million of Queensland government taxpayers' money. I note that, under section 11 of this inquiry, we are to visit a number of towns and centres in Queensland, including Nambour, Ipswich, Mackay, Rockhampton et cetera. One area not on this list that we should go to is Tahiti. Let's go to Tahiti and investigate the royal lineage of the Tahitian family and see if there is any connection to the department of health officials in Queensland. Perhaps, if we go to Tahiti, we will discover that it was a credible story and should cut the former Queensland Labor government a bit more slack.

Unfortunately, only one of our side of politics will get that opportunity to go to Tahiti, because, as was outlined earlier in the debate, there are five members of this committee and only one has been allocated to the coalition. That is only a fifth, despite this side being almost half of the chamber. I would also like to note that, with the establishment of this committee, the chair of this committee will receive an 11 per cent increase on their base salary, which works out to be about $20,000 a year, as per the decision of the Labor Party and the Greens. The committee will determine who the chair is, but it may go to Senator Lazarus. It is very kind of the Senate to provide Senator Lazarus with that increase in his salary, but for what purpose is it? I go back to where I started: why is the Australian taxpayer being asked to pay the chair of this committee an extra $20,000-odd a year? It will provide no benefit for the federal parliament, it will change nobody's life in this country and it is a complete abuse of power.


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